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The operatic equestrian

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Heather Main shown singing to one of the racing horses at her farm. The Heather Main Kingston Common Farm offers a calm, relaxed and self-contained environment for training racehorses. Through careful selection of pedigree, physique and temperament, Heather and James find the true athletes that, with nurturing, will become winners. Heather Main provides individual attention for both horse and owner. Heather Main shown singing to one of the racing horses at her farm. The Heather Main Kingston Common Farm offers a calm, relaxed and self-contained environment for training racehorses. Through careful selection of pedigree, physique and temperament, Heather and James find the true athletes that, with nurturing, will become winners. Heather Main provides individual attention for both horse and owner. (photo courtesy of Heather Main Racing via their website)

Professional opera singer Heather Main has performed in front of thousands of rapturous opera fans at London’s Royal Albert Hall, but some of her most appreciative listeners these days have four legs, a long neck and a tail.

The Alabama native has lived in England for 25 years since she moved to London to study at the Trinity College of Music.

“I’ve never been a city girl. I’ve always loved the countryside and I’ve always had horses in my life,” Main said in a phone interview from her 28-acre Kingston Common farm in Oxfordshire, located about 90 minutes northwest of London.

While maintaining a fairly busy schedule of belting out operas all over the UK - and with horses still on her mind - Main says she began commuting to Newmarket, a town in the English county of Suffolk, to train for her jockey’s license.

“I ended up winning two races out of 12 rides,” she said. “So I decided to become a horse race trainer.”

Working with horses professionally became her primary focus, but singing was never far away. While rehearsing on her farm for an upcoming performance, Main discovered something curious and wonderful.

“I didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse inside with a piano so I would sing when grooming the horses and feeding them,” she remembered.

Suddenly, the horses stopped eating and focused their attention on the source of the music. 

“They all stopped what they were doing,” said Main. “As I would sing, they would flick their ears back and forth. Some of them would nod their heads and some would sort of sway to the music. It was obvious they were paying attention and enjoying it.” 

The reaction of her horses to her voice made Main very happy.

“It was fantastic,” she said. “I realized that I wasn’t just singing to myself. I had an appreciative audience here at the farm.”

Some of the horses will whinny and nicker along with Heather as she exposes them to a variety of her favorite composers. 

“One in particular really nods his head up and down like he’s dancing,” she said. “When they flick their ears back and forth, you know they’re happy and interested. If they pinned their ears straight back, then you know they’re angry and don’t enjoy it. Fortunately, they don’t do that – with me.”

According to Main, her horses seem to appreciate most all music – with one notable exception.

“They definitely do not like hard rock,” Main explained. “They seem to like most everything else, including country and western music. I sing a lot of Handel, Mozart and Puccini. We also play French music for them, such as Edith Piaf.”

I asked Main if she had ever sung Queen’s mini rock-opera “Bohemian Rhapsody” to her horses.

“It’s funny you should ask about that song. I actually sang it at my own wedding,” Main said with a laugh. “My cousin is in a band back in Alabama and he harmonized with me. I should sing it for the horses and see how they react.”

Main believes that singing to her horses is making a difference when it comes to their performance on the track.

“We’ve had five winners out of eight runners this month. We’ve had 11 horses running this year. Seven have won and all of them placed in the first four. That is unusual because racing here in England is so competitive.”

Main’s horses have often competed against those owned by Queen Elizabeth.

“I had a two-year-old first-time runner at Newbury (a race course in Berkshire),” Main said, recalling a recent race. 

“He was not the best-behaved horse and the Queen was standing on the edge near the parade ring where the horses walk around. She has a lot of security around her and I kept saying to my horse ‘Please behave. I don’t want to be identified as the horse trainer who accidentally killed the Queen.’”

In addition to the horses on her farm in England, the Alabama native has horses in Ireland and France and would love to have a runner in America.

“The Kentucky Derby would be nice,” she said.  

She may need to add “Kentucky Rain,” “Kentucky Woman,” or “Blue Moon of Kentucky to her repertoire of equine-friendly tunes. Until then, Main says she will stick with Mozart and Handel.

“I know singing to the horses sounds crazy, but they like it, and that’s all that matters.” 

1 comment

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